National Gallery of Art Announces Victoria P. Sant Fund for Women Artists and Important Acquisitions by Women Artists
Washington, DC—The National Gallery of Art announced today a remarkable gift of $10 million from the family of Victoria P. Sant, former president of the National Gallery of Art, to fund the acquisition of work by women. An endowment fund, the Victoria P. Sant Fund for Women Artists, will further the National Gallery's ongoing priority of acquiring more work by women, from historic works to living artists.
In an ongoing commitment to this work, many acquisitions over the past years expand the holdings of creations by women artists across genre and medium. Two acquisitions of special significance were recently approved at the May 2022 Board of Trustees meeting: a portrait by Bolognese painter Lavinia Fontana (1552–1614), the first painting by an early modern Italian woman artist to enter the collection, and a small sculpture by Luisa Roldán (1652–1706) that is the first work by a woman sculptor created before 1850 to enter the collection.
"The National Gallery of Art and our millions of visitors have benefited tremendously from Vicki's dedication to serving the American public," said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery. "It is exciting that we now have an endowment fund to help us acquire masterpieces by women artists, and one that will carry the name of such an exemplary advocate and leader. We look forward to adding important works by women artists from all eras to the collection and continuing the work which Vicki so passionately championed."
The Victoria P. Sant Fund for Women Artists
The Victoria P. Sant Fund for Women Artists will be the cornerstone in the ongoing efforts to address the gap of women artists represented in the collection. Vicki Sant (1939–2018) was the first woman president of the National Gallery and a member of the Board of Trustees for 15 years. Future acquisitions will benefit from the generosity of her family, given in loving memory toward a cause so important to her.
The National Gallery intends to use this fund to expand the of acquisitions of work by women as part of its commitment to increase holdings of works by these artists. In the past two years (May 2020 to May 2022), 50.6% of the works acquired by purchase were by artists of color, compared to just 12.6% in the two years prior (a 302% increase). During the same period, works by women artists comprised 35.5% of the total, compared to just 20.3% during the two years prior (a 75% increase).
Lavinia Fontana, Portrait of Lucia Bonasoni Garzoni (c. 1590)
This highly detailed and exquisite portrait depicts the 16th-century musician Lucia Bonasoni Garzoni (b. 1561–at least 1610) by the most productive woman artist of the late 16th century, the Bolognese painter Lavinia Fontana. This portrait is among Fontana's best preserved and most accomplished surviving works in the genre. A rare depiction of a 16th-century woman musician by a 16th-century woman artist, this painting tells the story of two accomplished women who were able to overcome obstacles in a patriarchal society to succeed in the artistic spheres of painting and music.
Fontana died just before her 62nd birthday after a highly successful career. Trained by her father, Prospero Fontana (1512–1597), in the late mannerist style, and most famous for her portraits of noblewomen, she produced her first dateable works around 1575. In addition to portraits, she painted secular and religious subjects, including altarpieces for churches (a rarity in the period), portraits of scholars, and mythological nudes—a subject that was unheard of for women in the period. In 1577, Fontana married Gian Paolo Zappi (c. 1555–1615), who acted as her business manager; she supported her family, which included 11 children, with the profits from her painting. Fontana is one of 68 known women artists from Bologna in the early modern period and was a trailblazer for women artists who succeeded her.
Luisa Roldán, Virgin and Child (c. 1680/1686)
This small carved wood and painted statue by Luisa Roldán is the first work by a woman sculptor from before c. 1850 to enter the National Gallery's collection. Widely accepted as a work by Roldán on stylistic grounds, it shares close similarities with a range of sculptures that are widely acknowledged to be by her.
Born in Seville, Roldán was the daughter of Pedro Roldán, one of the city's most accomplished sculptors. Her introduction to sculpture most likely came from Pedro, with whom she worked in close partnership. At the age of 19, she left home to marry one of her father's studio assistants, with whom she set up a workshop and began undertaking commissions. Some of her earliest works, identifiable by style, include various life-size figures in painted wood for altarpieces in Seville and processional floats (paseos) that reflect but differ from her father’s style.
In 1688 Roldán and her husband moved to Madrid, likely in expectation of an appointment at the court of King Carlos II. Eventually she was awarded the royal title of escultora de cámara, which did not prove especially lucrative. She turned to specializing in painted terracotta scenes. When Felipe V ascended to the throne in 1701, she was reappointed to the Spanish court. Lauded for her accomplishments as a sculptor, she nevertheless died destitute, unable to pay for a funeral. On the day she died, she received recognition as an "Accademica di merit" from the Accademia di San Luca in Rome.
Acquisition Highlights by Women Artists
The National Gallery has continued to represent the work of women artists with notable acquisitions over the last two years in all areas of the museum.
Faith Ringgold's (b. 1930) The American People Series #18: The Flag is Bleeding (1967) is the first painting by a leading figure of contemporary art to enter the collection. This pivotal work exemplifies the artist's skill in using art as a vehicle to question the social dynamics of race, gender, and power. The National Gallery also acquired two works by Carmen Herrera (1915–2022), one of the leading practitioners of abstract art during the second half of the 20th century: Untitled (2013) and the sculptural relief Untitled Estructura (Yellow) (1966/2016). Associated with non-representational, concrete abstraction in Europe, the United States, and Latin America, Herrera's art contributed to the cross-pollination of modernist ideas.
Genesis Tramaine's (b. 1983) Clinging unto the Lord (2021) blends a provocative use of color with an urban-inspired, mixed-media approach that focuses on the shape and definition of the "American Black Face" and uses exaggerated features to capture the spirited emotions of the untapped, underrepresented souls of Black people. Carla Accardi (1924–2014), a prominent figure of postwar Italian art and the Italian feminist movement, painted the wavelike forms of Rossorosa (1966) in red varnish on a sheet of clear Sicofoil suspended in front of pink cardboard. The work exemplifies Accardi's preference for combinations of maximum-intensity hues and bold patterns to create powerful optical effects. Two quilts by Rosie Lee Tompkins (1936–2006) also entered the collection last year. Tompkins created irregularly shaped quilt tops that she valued for their visual and spiritual qualities, rather than their functionality.
Other highlights include SONG OF SOLOMON 5:16 – BE BEEWORLD: BE B BOY B GIRL (after "Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Gueifei playing the same flute" by Utamaro Kitagawa) (2014–2016) by artist Rozeal (formerly known as Iona Rozeal Brown, b. 1966); Sarah Cain's (b. 1979) Self-Portrait (2020), an exuberant, mixed-media abstract painting; and Eko Skyscraper (2019) by Njideka Akunyili Crosby (b. 1983), the first work by this celebrated artist to enter the collection.
Sonia Gomes (b. 1948), a contemporary Afro-Brazilian artist, is known for her mixed-media works made of fabric, wire, and other materials. Correnteza (Current) (2018), a sculpture from her Raízes (Roots) series, brings the aesthetic and the human together in memorable sculptures that are at once traditionally Brazilian and fluently contemporary. Chakaia Booker's (b. 1953) Egress (c. 2000), the first sculptural work by her to enter the collection, is created with recycled tires that transform familiar symbols of urban waste and blight into extraordinary compositions of renewal.
A pioneer of second-wave feminist and post-war Black nationalist aesthetics, Betye Saar's (b. 1926) practice examines African American identity, spirituality, and cross-cultural connectedness. The Trickster (1994) reflects Saar's continued introspection, her assertion of the aesthetic and conceptual power of African cultural forms, and the belief that art can be made from anything. The first major relief by Louise Nevelson (1899–1988), Untitled (c. 1975), resembles Nevelson's classic, earlier work in that it consists largely of found pieces of black-painted wood that fit tightly within boxlike containers.
Prints and Drawings:
Maria Catharina Prestel (1747–1794) was one of the few prominent female pioneers of aquatint. View of the Loss of the Rhone (1791), depicting a geologic fault in France, exemplifies how Prestel created inventive textures to evoke the tactility of brushwork.
The National Gallery acquired three works by Zarina (1937–2020), one of the most celebrated South Asian artists of the past century, who explores questions of displacement, mobility, loss, memory, migration, and cultural dominance in her work: Homes I Made/A Life in Nine Lines (1997) a portfolio of nine etchings; Corners (1980), made from cast paper; and Untitled (1968), a wood relief print.
Israeli artist Orit Hofshi's (b. 1959) Time… thou ceaseless lackey to eternity (2018), one of her largest polyptychs, explores the history and founding of Israel and its ongoing conflicts with Palestine using the universal themes of migration, displacement, and the toll that human civilization has taken on the land. Nicole Eisenman (b. 1965) is best known as a painter who skillfully combines art history, queer politics, and popular culture into engaging, often fantastical figurative subjects. Beer Garden (2012–2017)—at nearly four feet square—stands out as her most monumental print to date and took five years to complete.
Celebrated for her ability to explore issues of race, class, gender, power, and injustice with eloquent insight and passionate conviction, Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1953) often uses the past to shine a light on the present. Weems's Untitled (1996, printed 2020) consists of seven inkjet prints, each a reproduction of a historic photograph and each framed with sandblasted text on glass inspired by the heroism of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, one of the first African American regiments formed in the North during the Civil War. In her photograph Echoes for Marian (2014), Weems depicts herself standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, paying homage to Marian Anderson, who performed a concert there when the Daughters of the American Revolution barred her from singing in Washington's Constitution Hall. Weems’s photograph shows how architecture can not only exude a sense of power, but also reinforce it.
Other highlights include photographs by Christina Fernandez (b. 1965), a Los Angeles–based Chicana artist who uses photographs and installations to explore her Mexican heritage and themes of identity, migration, labor, and gender. The National Gallery acquired six prints from her Lavanderia series (2002–2003), which depicts laundromats in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of LA, an area of the city that was known at the time as a bastion of Chicano culture, as well as her installation piece, Bend (1999–2000, 2020). Two important photographs by JoAnn Verburg, 3 x Three (2019) and WTC (2003), show how Verburg captures extended moments of time in her art, a theme that she has explored since the 1970s.
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